Update from the Bristol University development team:

Since October we have been working with Computer Science students from the University of Bristol to redesign the interface for our digital asset management system.

After initially outlining what we want from the new design, there have been frequent meetings and they’ve now reached a stage where they can happily share with us their project so far.
Quick, appealing and easy to use, this potential new interface looks very promising!

Challenge: Improving the buying process for retail

Customers buy what they can pick from the shop floor or online catalogue. Not what is “on its way from a warehouse” or gathering dust on our stockroom shelf. Stock not available to the customer is therefore waste. A waste of committed money (cash flow concerns and thus an introduction of risk) and a waste of space in our shop stockroom which in turns reduces overall shop floor space and slows staff looking for product.

Because “Buying” is the most critical of the four pillars of retail, it seems the sensible place to work on iterating to gain further improvement. I’m going to challenge ourselves to use 2017 to maximise our buying workflow.

At present we do our buying like any other retailer, we order by supplier when we feel or notice heavy product depletion. Furthermore we “hold” about 1/4 of our stockholding in our stockroom. If it is on the stockroom shelf it has zero chance of being sold. In addition to having a costly quantity of product hanging around, the space used to hold our product could potentially be converted into public shop floor space. For example at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery there is a false wall which conceals our stockroom which is about 8m in length with a depth of 1.4m. If we’re about to improve how we buy, it is possible to push this wall back further and gain that space as public floor space that could be used for 2-4 nesting tables worth £10,000+. The challenge of course is that would reduce our total stockroom space by 2/3.

If we can increase our understanding of what to buy and when this would unlock the potential to carry out operation “shrink the stockroom”.

The upsides would be:

  • move to a new process of ordering “just in time”
  • reduce stockroom size thus freeing up new floor space for customers worth £10,000+
  • reduce “out of stock” scenario by improving the buying process
  • order by need not assumption
  • reduce ordering time across the full year
  • reduce owning costly stock that may not sell which also takes up space
  • maximise available money set aside for buying products that sell
  • reduce time lost by staff who have to hunt around a big stockroom

The first major step forward has been moving to a fully digital ordering process to minimise the steps required for that particular part of the system. We use a combination of Shopify reporting and google spreadsheets to do this. Our internal system for generating purchase orders currently prevents us using automated ordering directly to the supplier.

I think the next step will be to understand the rhythm of how often each product is sold AND what minimum order size suppliers can accept.

Myself and the team will write about our successes and challenges throughout the year. It won’t be easy but nothing worth doing is!

The week our office turned into a photography studio!

With one of the main aims this year being to improve our online shop, myself and Darren decided to improve and update some stock photos. We enrolled in a crash course from resident photographer David Emeney and by the end of session thought we’d be able to do it, easy.

However, we came to find that photography is not as easy as it seems! First came the issue of space. Although David kindly allowed us to use his studio in the basement, with no computer nearby to check pictures and in fear of messing with any of his equipment, we though it may be best  if we set up a studio a little more close by.IMG_20170109_154103292_HDR

In true Blue Peter style Darren and I set about creating our own in-office photography studio by collecting bits and pieces from around the museum to mirror the one in the basement. Cardboard tubes were stapled together acting as a rod to hold the white background in place, this was held up by string wrapped multiple times around our window bars, counter tops were cleaned as to not make the paper dirty and even a staff noticeboard was used behind the paper to block out any natural light. Of course our office had to be rearranged first to fit such a project inside, a move which would have me non-stop sneezing for a few days as the settled dust was disturbed!

After a while of playing with the camera’s settings trying to find the right ones, we set to work to photograph stock. With thanks to Debs for letting us borrow geology’s light, the products came out well and the online shop now looks a lot smarter for it. Having this type of light was key to taking a good image, the close proximity between the product and source of light and changing the camera’s white balance when needed added extra quality.

It was a really good experience getting to know the manual settings of a camera and how each product requires a slight adjustment, also to be up to date with what products we currently have in store. I look forward to doing more stock photo shoots in the future and hope, at some point, to have all products photographed like this to keep a consistent look for the online shop.

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My Digital Apprenticeship with Bristol Museums

My name is Lacey Trotman and I am currently in the fifth week of my Digital Apprenticeship with Bristol Museums. Having left college this June completing a 2 year A levels course in History, Art History, Sociology and Film Studies, the summer was spent searching for the right role for me. Despite College pushing for students to attend University – and many of my friends doing so, I felt the pressures of study and exams to degree level were not for me at this time. I chose instead to look at apprenticeships as it gave me a chance to put my skills into practical use in a real world setting.

Since starting on October 4th I have already begun to work on various projects broadening my range of skills and understanding: tackling the Discovery Pens, writing ‘How to’ guides, resizing images, composing surveys, working on the online shop, diving into the fast paced world of social media and editing blogs for the Museum website.

My first impression is that it’s an amazing place to work, with many opportunities to
undertake and progress.  It’s also clear to see that there is a lot of work going into such an institution with many more departments behind the scenes than I could possibly have imagined.

I have always loved visiting museums and galleries. As a proud Bristolian I feel Bristol Museums provide some of the best in the country. Growing up, family holidays were full of excurst-michaels-mountsions to castles and places of historical interest. Most recently, we visited St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Our seaside cottage faced the historic site making for picturesque views at all times. With Poldark loving parentbarbara-hepworths we also visited the historic mines and ruins of work houses on the Cornish coast. Cornwall was also the home to legendary artist Barbara Hepworth, one of my key artists to feature in the Art History exam I completed this year; so I was thrilled
to see an original piece by her on our day trip to St. Ives.  Even better is that a few weeks after starting this apprenticeship, Winged Figure was newly installed in the gallery confirming this is definitely the best place to work!

Throughout my childhood I visited all the venues that come under the Bristol Museums canopy. My first trip to The Red Lodge Museum, was with Primary School. I remember being asked by the staff if I wanted to dress as Queen Elizabeth I for the class picture, but afraid of the spotlight I volunteered my best friend instead! Blaise Castle was always a childhood favourite of mine and I can also remember visiting the old Industrial Museum with its variety of transport, planes and trucks. However I banksywas delighted when the new M Shed opened offering fun and interactive features for free. I have not yet gotten over missing the iconic Banksy vs Bristol Museum exhibition or Dismaland, just 40 minutes away in Weston. With such strong links to Bristol, Banksy is a favourite artist of mine. Recently he paid my old Primary School a visit leaving a large mural on their classroom wall.

The next two years fill me with excitement and expectation. The addition of a marketing qualification will add further qualifications to my growing C.V.  I hope to excel in my role growing in both confidence and ability; I am keen to ensure I make the most of this experience and hope that all I have to offer will been seen as a positive addition to the hardworking Digital Team.

Our shopify setup for running POS in our gift shops

Across our museums and archive we sell in-person using an iPad and Shopify app. I thought i’d share with you our Shopify point of sale (POS) set up seeing as we’ve now rolled it out to five locations. The setup cost is just under £1000 for the kit and running costs are approx £3000 per year for the Shopify software, reporting and add-ons. It is worth mentioning that originally we used the basic Shopify package which is $29 per month (plus $40 for retail pos) but once we started to get serious with our retail management we upgraded to the “Advanced Shopify” which is approx £2800 per year.

Hardware

We purchased our kit from POS hardware as a bundle for approx £455 (ex vat) excluding the iPad and card reader. Most small merchants skip on getting the receipt printer and prefer to use “email this receipt”.

  • iPad air 2 – £379
  • Bluetooth barcode reader
  • Standard till drawer
  • Receipt printer
  • Contactless Credit/debit card reader with Applepay (approx £20 per month rental)
  • iPad secure stand
  • Router to avoid public wifi and maintain security – fitted by IT services

Software

A good thing about shopify is that you can scale up your options with the click of a button to install new features. Once you pay you can also install it on as many devices as you like which is great for pop-up shops.

Shopify retail $40 per month and is essential for turning your standard shopify account into a retail POS
Advanced Shopify £2800 per year which we use for the “reporting” features
– App – ALT Text FREE used to automatically generate image ALT text for our online shop
– App – Low Stock Alert FREE sends us an email warning which products are running low
– App – Profiteer $15 per month used to add the cost of goods to all products so we can understand our profit
– App – SEO Doctor FREE used to improve our online shop
– App – Shopify Theme Tool which we use for our custom online shop theme

Top tips

Updating shopify or iOS. It normally takes about 45mins to update the app shopify AND update iOS so never do this during hte business day..also avoid Friday or weekends if you have IT support who work Mon-Fri

If possible it is worth having a second iPad in case the primary device falls over for any reason. I’d also suggest you upgrade the software and test it using the second device before unleashing the latest version on the primary device

Shopify has 24/7 support so when I hit a snag I normally use their live chat to help get it resolved

Transformation: Business as Usual

Transformation is made one day at a time. Ideas, mistakes, doing and refining. Ship early, ship often. There are no ribbon cutting moments just the quiet satisfaction that a tool or way things are done become normal and it’s seen as business as usual. I love this transformation.
To counteract my nervous energy on my Dublin to New York City flight I made a brief list of things we’ve introduced in the recent past.
We’ve introduced new roles including Head of Digital and user researchers. New as in never been seen in the service before. How cool is that?! We’ve pushed as many decisions out from management as possible to keep the responsibility with whomever has the direct expertise and to release the bottleneck of waiting for the four of us. Yes we can still override a preferred course of direction.
We’re getting digital tools (basecamp and trello, emu) into position as THE way we do business – freeing up meeting time and being transparent. We’re also chipping away at a culture of being a ‘cultural business’. And that’s just on the staff front. All things to be super proud of from those across the team. What I love though is how “normal” all this is now. Tools like Basecamp were seen as for the nerds like me back in 2014 in the team. Yet in 2016 I can see we now use it for project managing all exhibitions as a matter of course.

We’re cooking on gas using google drive now too as the spreadsheet sharing and linking data gets more critical eg for kpi work. Accurate information over live/ancient information.
The public are seeing some of this work through our ‘Pay What You Think’ approach to our own in-house programme. Tinkering with pricing and value.
Stroll into Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and you’re now greeted upon entry and asked if you’d like to donate without delay.
All of the above are super closely aligned to our core value of “excellence” by focusing on the needs of the user – staff or public. You may be asked on your visit about any number of our services and we use this to make our service better.
Long live business as usual.

Digital Curating Internship – an update

By David Wright (Digital Curating Intern, Bristol Culture)

Both Macauley Bridgman and I are now into week six of our internship as Digital Curating Assistants here at Bristol Culture (Bristol Museums) . At this stage we have partaken in a wide array of projects which have provided us with invaluable experiences as History and Heritage students (a discipline that combines the study if history with its digital interpretation) at the University of the West of England. We have now been on several different tours of the museum both front of house and behind the scenes. Most notably our store tour with Head of Collections Ray Barnett, which provided us with knowledge of issues facing curators nationwide such as conservation techniques, museum pests and the different methods of both utilisation and presentation of objects within the entirety of the museum’s collection.

pic from stores

In addition we were also invited to a presentation by the International Training Programme in which Bristol Museums is a partner alongside the British Museum. Presentations given by Ntombovuyo Tywakadi, Collections Assistant at Ditsong Museum (South Africa), followed by Wanghuan Shi, Project Co-ordinator at Art Exhibitions China and Ana Sverko, Research Associate at the Institute of Art History (Croatia). All three visitors discussed their roles within their respective institutions and provided us with a unique insight into curating around the world. We both found these presentations both insightful and thought provoking as we entered Q&A centred on restrictions and limitations of historical presentation in different nations.

Alongside these experiences we have also assumed multiple projects for various departments around the museum as part of our cross disciplinary approach to digital curating.

Our first project involved working with Natural Sciences Collections Officer Bonnie Griffin to photograph, catalogue and conserve Natural History specimens in the store. This was a privileged assignment which we have perhaps found the most enjoyable. The first hand curating experience and intimate access with both highly experienced staff and noteworthy artefacts we both found inspiring in relation to our respective future careers.

David Wright
David Wright – Digital Curating Intern

Following on from this we undertook a project assigned by Lisa Graves, Curator for World Cultures, to digitise the outdated card index system for India. The digital outcome of this will hopefully see use in an exhibition next year to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Indian independence in a UK-India Year of Culture. At times we found this work to be somewhat tedious and frustrating however upon completion we have come to recognise the immense significance of digitising museum records for both the preservation of information for future generations and the increased potential such records provide for future utilisation and accessibility.

We have now fully immersed ourselves into our main Bristol Parks project which aims to explore processes by which the museum’s collections can be recorded and presented through geo-location technology. For the purposes of this project we have limited our exploration to well-known local parks, namely Clifton and Durdham Downs with the aim of creating a comprehensive catalogue of records that have been geo-referenced to precise sites within the area. With the proliferation of online mapping tools this is an important time for the museum to analyse how it records object provenance, and having mappable collections makes them suitable for inclusion in a variety of new and exciting platforms – watch this space!. Inclusive of this we have established standardised procedures for object georeferencing which can then be replicated for the use of future ventures and areas. Our previous projects for other departments have provided the foundation for us to explore and critically analyse contemporary processes and experiment with new ways to create links between objects within the museum’s collections.

id cards

As the saying goes “time flies when you are having fun”, and this is certainly true for our experience up to date. We are now in our final two weeks here at the museum and our focus is now fervently on completing our Bristol Parks project.

Digital Curating Internship

We are currently uni students at UWE (University of the West of England) studying history with heritage as the first students on this programme of study. We have been given the fantastic opportunity to work with the digital department at Bristol Culture which runs the various museums and heritage sites in and around Bristol as its first digital curating internship. These fully compliment what we have been and continue to study within our degrees and will allow us to put into practical use what we have studied.

Over the course of the next eight weeks will be working alongside various different departments, collections and projects, offering us a unique insight into the heritage industry.

What does digital curating mean to us?

For us digital curation is the future of 21st century museology the implementation and development of which allows for four significant benefits:

• Democratisation of information reduces barriers to entry.
• Increases the potential use of collections.
• Stimulates further research.
• Widens community engagement to ever greater and diverse audiences.

As fantastic as these systems can be there is still room for further advancement. We have already learnt in our short time here that a few issues include inconsistencies across departments, collection backlog, dirty data also the lack of secure data sharing detailed information between institutions. Despite these hurdles the drive to expand and improve digital curation continues with great hope for what can be achieved in this field.

Expectations for the role:

Through this role we aim to:

• Engage and critique existing cataloguing methods and SPECTRUM standard archival systems such as EMu.
• To develop strategies for increasing engagement with both collections and institutions.
• Develop the necessary skills and experience to pursue a career within the heritage industry.
• Work closely and network with a variety of different heritage professionals within the South West.

We both look forward to expanding both our knowledge and experience, as well as eagerly anticipating what this internship has in store for the next eight week’s .

A special welcome for every visitor at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Photo showing our new welcome area with the public at the desk

Image credit: Oliver Merchant

Post by Valerie Harland

If you have been at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery within the last week, you might have noticed that our street-level entrance lobby is now a much more welcoming place for our visitors.

Staff at a new Welcome Desk now greet everyone as they enter the museum. Visitors are asked if they’ve been to the museum before, if they’ve come for a general look around or for an exhibition, talk or particular gallery or artefact.

Welcome Desk staff state that there’s no general admission fee and that donations are welcome, adding any highlights or their own personal favourites from what’s on display.

The visitor map has been improved to more graphically show the layout of the museum and share some of the highlights in the galleries. Finally, visitors are asked if they would like to make a donation today to Bristol Museums Development Trust (the independent registered charity that raises funds for Bristol Museums and Archives).

To explain why we are asking for donations, the editorial on the reverse of the visitor map explains that behind the scenes curators, conservators, documentation professionals and a host of other specialist staff are working to care for the collections, create new displays and encourage people of all ages and interests to discover more.

Illustrated examples of how the £5 suggested donation could help are also provided in the visitor map, for example to conserve an artefact, examine minerals more closely, or conserve a painting.  The visitor map also outlines Bristol Museums’ sources of funds: this is approximately 40% from Bristol City Council, 30% from Arts Council England, and the remaining 30% coming from our shops, cafes, event hires, Friends groups, and fundraising from a variety of sources including visitors.

It is anticipated the new Welcome Desk will give passers-by more of an idea of what happens inside this Edwardian building, resulting in more people crossing the threshold. It should also significantly increase the donation per head (currently 7p per head at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery), thus bringing in much needed funds that will enable us to do more with our collections and thus improve the visitor experience.

The Welcome Desk is being trialled for four months, until the end of October. If you have any comments about the Welcome Desk project, please contact Valerie Harland at valerie.harland@bristol.gov.uk

Introducing exhibition entry gates

Photo of a visitor entering the exhibition through the barrier

Image of Jake Mensah walking successfully through the barrier

This week we installed an entry gate system to our exhibition gallery at M Shed just in time for the opening of Children’s TV. Our “exhibition” gallery is located on the top floor, far away from the ground floor reception and not naturally easy to stumble across for the average wandering visitor. The project scope was to reduce the overall cost of an exhibition to the service and encourage as many visitors as possible to purchase tickets in advance. We’ll then test the success of the project against three of our key performance indicators – customer satisfaction, cost per transaction, and digital take-up.

Against each KPI we aim to:

Customer satisfaction – We don’t want people to experience a notable difference between our old approach of buying from a member of staff at the entrance and them buying online/kiosk and then entering the exhibition via the gate. We expect teething issues around the “behaviour” of this new approach but not from the technology itself which should be robust. The outcome we need is for little to no complaints within the first two weeks or until we find solutions for the teething problems.

Reduce cost per transaction – a typical paid exhibition costs approximately £7,000 to staff the ticket station. By moving to a one off fee (plus annual service) we’ll save money within 12 months and then in year two this will return a large saving for this function.

Increase digital take-up – until now it wasn’t possible to buy exhibition tickets online or using your mobile device at the museum. This is a feature that the new system enables so we’ll spend the next 18 months actively encouraging the public to buy a ticket “digitally” as part of our move to being digital by default. An additional benefit of using our website to buy tickets is that hopefully a percentage of these visitors will discover other services and events we offer. I also do wonder if we need to get a self-service kiosk to reduce the impact on the reception.

Setting up the entry gates

The third party supplier obviously manufactured and installed the gates but there was still lots for our team to deal with. We needed input from a whole gang of people. Our operations duo worked on ensuring we had the correct physical location, power, security and fire systems integration. Via collective feedback our visitor assistants provided various customer journeys and likely pinch points. Our digital team then helped with the installation and software integration for buying tickets. Design and marketing then helped with messaging. Throughout I was charged with overseeing the project and site visits with the supplier.

The major components of the project are:

  • Physical barriers – two stainless steel coated gates with a bunch of sensors and glass doors
  • Software for the barrier
  • Web service to purchase tickets
  • Onsite EPOS to sell tickets and print which is currently located at main reception

Initial observations

I was onsite for the launch and saw the first 50 or so visitors use the entry gates. My initial observations were that the gates didn’t negatively slow or concern the visitor and having asked a number of them it wasn’t a big deal. However an obvious pinch-point is that the barcode scanner doesn’t always read the barcode, leaving the visitor struggling. My hunch at this point is that our paper tickets are too thin and bendy which means the barcode scanner fails to recognise the barcode. In the coming week we’ll need to investigate if it is the barcode or barcode scanner as the primary cause and find a fix.

When multiple visitors arrive at the barrier there can be some confusion about how “one at a time” actually works. I’m hopeful that clear messaging will iron this out.

A slight issue was that we couldn’t take online payments due to a gateway issue which we’ll have fixed Monday.

Overall I’m very happy with the introduction of the gates and once we deal with the aforementioned teething issues it should be on to the next location for these gates. This is one of those projects that can only really be tested once they go live with real visitors, and the team did a fantastic job!